Since the beginning of winter quarter, twelve graduating dance majors have been choreographing original pieces for UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance showcase. Titled “un/ending,” these performances represent not only the culmination of the class of 2023’s undergraduate education but also a celebration of their immense talent and individuality. As a fly on the wall during the rehearsal process, I had the privilege of interviewing several choreographers and attending rehearsals as they crafted their pieces.
Observing the deeply personal process of creating a dance composition gave me an invaluable look at the tremendous skill and artistic vision of UCLA’s student choreographers. From early concepts to final touches, it has been inspiring to see how they’ve channeled their passions into beautiful and moving pieces of art while also building a strong system of support in the classroom.
An official press release called the event “a recognition of all that is to come: a lifelong performance that is un/ending.”
This theme is clearly reflected in their choreographic process; students focus on crafting meaningful compositions, many of which reference particular experiences in their lives. Specifically, Marimar Lopez Tovar, one of the student choreographers, was inspired by personal experience to explore both the individual and joint growth that can occur in a relationship. By uniquely representing stages of a relationship with two different couples, Tovar stressed the power of change and the “importance of communication when you see the world so differently.”
Tovar was not the only dancer to examine relationships through their piece. Jackie Pierce, another choreographer, described her work as being about a tumultuous relationship and her “general tendency to romanticize things that aren’t actually there.” A duet in which the male dancer moves in and out, Pierce’s piece explores the complexity of gender roles in relationships while subverting expectations of traditional ballet partnering and effectively constructing a narrative. From the first time I watched this piece in the winter, I have felt moved by its ability to effectively convey a wide range of highly relevant themes while maintaining its deeply personal and largely cathartic attachment to its creator.
Along the lines of this inward-looking perspective, senior Gina Basile described choreographing her piece as “a form of therapy.” Throughout her piece, Basile works through struggles of self-worth and public perception in a powerful solo that grants her the ability to ask: how do I talk to myself, and how do I talk to myself when people are watching? By begging these questions throughout her artistic process, Basile has produced a composition that simultaneously engages her audience and expresses deeply personal themes.
The classroom’s mixed workshop and open-time format facilitated Basile’s creativity throughout the process, and she referenced relationships with her peers, TAs, and professor and studio access as pivotal to creatively working through any challenges she has faced in the process. At the conclusion of her piece, Basile brings out the rest of her classmates in what she calls “a visual representation of the invisible net” – a decision she made in the early stages of developing the piece.
The classroom community represented in Basile’s piece was echoed in every conversation I had with the choreographers. Calling the environment “inspiring,” “rare,” and “a blessing,” the language these students use to refer to their peers is a testament to their vulnerability and cohesion. With the guidance of Professor Dan Froot, this cohort has developed its own culture of mutual support and respectful, constructive feedback that gives them the space to develop as creatives and people.
“Being surrounded by a group of people all trying to do their own thing creatively is really inspiring. It makes you want to work,” Tovar said. “We work in a realm where we talk about things that we notice while trying not to give suggestions or input, just reflection. It’s super helpful because you can decide whether or not you want to take advice, and you don’t try to meet others’ expectations.”
Another major feature of this show is its production, which is also undertaken by the students. Divided into six committees to work towards goals in production, PR, budgeting, program design, social media, and documentation, the seniors have exerted significant logistical and creative influence over the culminating showcase. By working on both performance and production elements, the students not only gain experience in multiple dimensions of artistry but also cooperate in dictating the show’s visual identity and branding.
Every facet of un/ending is uniquely representative of the student choreographers and the system of support that underlies the upcoming showcase. For audience members and performers alike, un/ending is an immensely rewarding and therapeutic experience in which students have the opportunity to explore deep vulnerabilities and the power of certain formative experiences.
The shows will take place on Friday, May 12th at 7:30 PM and Saturday, May 13th at 2 PM in the Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater. Tickets can be reserved at unending.eventbrite.com, and a live stream is available at https://www.youtube.com/live/8uFk58NoiLM.